I was looking through some archives, as I use to do, and looked for some names that still are Scandinavian, but not so common, and I found the Swedish born soldier David Gerhard Lydell, born April 16th, 1892 in Norra Hestra Parish, Gislaved, Sweden. He was born in an old “Soldattorp” as his father, Josef Lydell, was a soldier in “Jönköpings regemente”, “Mo Härads Kompani 5”.
David left Sweden in 1910 with only $25 in his pocket. He went to France in August 1918, and Died of Decease not even a month after he arrived, age 26.
I decided to try to find the location of this “soldattorp”, in the small village of Flahult, Norra Hestra, and I think I have located it through some old maps from the Swedish Map Service “Lantmäteriet”. This place is only about 50 km from where I live. Below you can see some snippets from the old maps that I have found, and some from map sites at Internet. The area “Cb” in the small map looks exactly like the area in the larger old map.
Next step will be to try to visit these areas to collect information for my upcoming Battlefield Guide, that also will contain information about each individual, about their history connected to Sweden.
The other evening I was looking for more information about a soldier named Erik M Carlson, and searched for his name in some digital newspapers. I found a small article about him and was satisfied over that.
I did not reflect over it then, but when reading some articles again, I found in this case another individual in the same text, in the text about Erik M Carlson.
I decided to search for him in the archives, and there I found him, as the Swedish soldier Otto Harold Christenson Persson.
Otto was born in Vinslöv, Skåne, in the most southern landscape of Sweden. Otto went to US in 1914. He left US for France in June 1918, fought at the Western Front, and was KIA in October. You can read his faith through some of the photos above.
I have manually searched through most of the common Scandinavian names in the different archives, but there are also individuals with names that are not so common, although the are Scandinavian.
That was the reason in this case, I havent searched through that name before, and it made me glad to find him! I will now read the articles more carefully next time, to maybe find some more hidden gems!
I am still in my fact finding phase in my project about Swedes at the Western Front, and one source that I look into now is in the old Swedish-American newspapers. They are a great source when trying to find names, stories about the individuals that I already have, but also read about the things that happened during that time, in the Great War, between 1914 and 1918.
This evening I just look through an article by the Swedish journalist, Gunnar Cederschöld, who went to one of the American Training camps in USA at that time, to search for Swedes, both those who had emigrated, but also for those Swedes who were born over there, the Second generation Swedes.
I decides to transcribe the article as I think it gives a bit of insight about who those Swedes were, what they thought about, and what made them join the army and be prepared to go out in war., even if it is just a small glimps, and may not cover all of the Swedes who participated.
The article is from a newspaper from August 7th, 1918, called Omaha-Post. I have adjusted his lanhuage a bit as it was written in old Swedish, but the core in still intact. Below you can read it in English. Please understand that some of the men had values from that time, who may not reflect the common Swede today, but it is still interesting.
... The next day I came to an artillery brigade. And there I found better hunting grounds. The general gave me a Swedish corporal and a soldier and with them I went from battery to battery and looked through the scrolls. And on each battery we found several Andersson, Karlson, Lundström, Lindgren, etc. And if there was no other, there was a Christensen or Pedersen.
Then it was an easy thing to find them. The occasional Anderson we saw was an angry Scotsman, but the vast majority willingly admitted that they were either born in Sweden or by Swedish parents. And the most gratifying thing was that they were proud of it. In these regiments, which in part came from the Middle West, it seemed to be considered a merit to be Swedish. Nearly half of the countrymen, both first and second generation, were corporals or sergeants. Some were “Military Policemen”, a occupation reserved for solid and steadfast men with influence over their comrades and accustomed to dealing with drunken people.
You certainly did not have to be ashamed of your countrymen out there. You didn’t have to look for more handsome men. Those Swedes born or raised in the U. S. A. were often giants nearly two meters tall, blond, broad-shouldered, and confident, but awake and alert. With surprise, I found that most of those who were born in the states spoke good Swedish or at worst understood completely. The children of New York Swedes seldom admit that they know the language of their fathers.
I had come to ask them a lot of things. But I did not get much opportunity for that. They had so many questions to ask me.
“How are things in the old country, they must have a hard time with food?” was almost always the first question.
“Do they have coffee? Do they have bread?”
“I almost broke in tears at breakfast, when I think of the old people, who might be eating “bark bread”, said a northerner. “Do you have any Swedish newspapers with you?” I bitterly regretted not bringing a bundle of trade newspapers. They would have been more than welcome out here.
“Is it possible to send a couple of pounds of coffee to my family in the old country?”
“Is it true that there are Swedes in the French army? How have they managed?”
What I had to say about the Swedish legionaries interested them. “I knew that Swedish boys can fight”, said the former railway man. – We’ll probably be able to cope with what we bring with us when it is our turn! -There are no Swedes with the Germans, are there?
I must admit that although there were a couple of officers there, there was very little risk or chance that they would come across them. However, there were some Swedes in the English army and several companies among the Canadians. That’s good to know, they said.
The American-born Swedes showed more international views on their issues. They wanted to know, if there was any risk or chance , that Sweden would be involved in the war and on which side. If the Socialists gained ground during the war. What the new government went for. If industry and finance suffered much from the war. -How high was the dollar in Sweden?
–Do they know at home that there are many thousands of Swedes in the United States army? That a large part of them are volunteers? In these regiments, everyone was a volunteer. Only a few had been soldiers before 1917.
Among them was an old corporal (or possibly sergeant, I do not remember for sure) Berg from Stockholm, who despite over twenty years of service in the US Army, spoke genuine Stockholm dialect and was delighted to talk about his Stockholm memories .
But about his father the watchmaker in Stockholm, I could sadly not give him any fresh news.
A very sympathetic acquaintance was the Swedish lieutenant E, a calm serious man. He had an advance – from non-commissioned officer and served as a first lieutenant.
The vast majority of the Swedes had volunteered when America declared war, many of them had signed up the day after the declaration of war. Some were very young and came directly from agricultural schools, universities or technical colleges. Others were already mature men, who had abandoned their farms, workshops or shops to go out and fight for Uncle Sam. I hardly met a single one who became a soldier because he failed in civilian life. Nor was the desire for adventure what drove them. The vast majority had taken the rifle for the same reason as the Swedes in the Foreign Legion.
Pure idealism, Violated sense of justice, resentment against the breaker of promise and the child and woman killer. – “Right should be right” is the core of the Swede’s view of life, on whatever latitude he lives. And one who violates the law, he should be beaten. Their national selfesteem about American subjects had also contributed, both among the Swedish-born and those of the second generation. They could not stand with their hands in their pockets and watch as the emperor stepped on Uncle Sam’s toes.
They need to go out and teach the world respect for Stars and Stripes.
In the first place, they feel like Americans. But the awareness that they are of Swedish blood gives them a certain self-confidence. They know that their ancestors fought well against Germans, Moscovites and others. They feel the responsibility to carry on the Swedish warrior tradition.
Now that I know them, I trust that they will do so with honor and that we will be honored by our countrymen.
Below you find some text about Gustaf Oscar Roos, that describes his story from a youngster, how he gained experience in the Boer War in South Africa, about his awards and when he later then joined the BEF to fight at the Western Front.
“Captain Roos was the younger son of Mr. Gustaf Roos of Queen’s Gate Terrace. He was admitted in 1882, became a Queen’s Scholar in 1883. In 1887 left the school and was admitted to Balliol College Oxford where he took a first-class in jurisprudence in 1891. As a law student in London he took a very active part in organising and managing working boys’ clubs in the East End which were managed as a charitable endeavour. He became a solicitor and often worked as a ‘Poor Man’s Solicitor’ at Toynbee Hall. In the Boer War joined Thorneycroft’s Mounted Infantry. He was twice wounded, severely at the Battle of Spion Kop in 1900, and obtained the King’s Medal and the Queen’s Medal with six clasps. He then remained in Johannesburg practicing once again as a solicitor.
The Elizabethan records that:
He came to England for the war, and though at first refused a commission on the ground of his age obtainedit by his importunity. He had boundless energy and great capacity, and was the most unselfish of men. He lived, as he died, for the good of others.
He was killed in action near Serre in the Battle of Somme on 1st July 1916. ‘A’ Company of the 14th Battalion the York and Lancaster Regiment was under his command and ordered to proceed in file across ‘No Man’s Land’ towards the German trenches. A later report suggests that Roos managed to enter a German trench but was immediately wounded, captured by the German soldiers and taken to a nearby hospital, set up in a church, where he died from his wounds.
He was initially buried in the Fremicourt Communal Cemetery by the German forces in 1916. His body exhumed on 26th June 1924 for reburial in a Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery. He was described as ‘a well-developed man with auburn hair and about 5 foot 9 or 10 inches in height, both legs broken, body badly smashed.’
Taken from “Account of part taken by the 14th (S) Bn. York & Lanc Rgt. On the attack on Serre. 1st July 1916.
The following were casualties sustained by this Battalion during these operations:
Killed – Lieut. Fordike, 2/Lieut. Hirst
Missing – Capt. Ross, Capt. Houston, Lieut. Fairley, Lieut. Anderson
Wounded – Lieut. Lowinsky, 2/Lieut. Strong. 2/Lieut. Holmes, 2/Lieut. Kell
Killed – 24
Wounded – 149
Missing – 92
Captain Roos mentioned above is assumed to be Captain Roos.
Once again I became enlightened during the evening, when browsing through some digital American newspapers from 1917. It reveals Interesting facts that I never heard or read about before. Its about the first officer who became the first one to be put on the casualty list on General Pershing Forces in France, at the Western Front in France, 1917.
That officer was a Swedish born soldier. The officer were 2nd Lt Frederick Wahlstrom. Read more about him below.
Frederick Wahlstrom was born in Mariestad, Sweden, May 5th, 1878. He moved to USA in 1897 only 19 year old.
He came to USA when he was 19 years old, in 1897 and enlisted in the Marine Corps as a private in 1903. In 1904 he was one of those sent to Panama, when trouble was brewing between the United States, Panama and Columbia over the canalzone, to which the United States was then receiving title. Two years later, he again went south, to Cuba. He was among the marines landed at Havana on September 30, 1906, to quell the Cuban insurrection and to give support to William Howard Taft, then Secretary of War under Roosevelt, when he took over for a time the government of the country.
Frederick saw much more of the world after that, and in 1915 he was assigned to the New York Navy Yard in Brooklyn. Because of his expert knowledge of electricity, he was placed in charge of the Marine Corps Electrical School. He did that in two yeras before he was called to be sent to France.
He showed his extraordinary skill as a marksman. In 1914 he won the international competition for the individual rifle championship of northern China, in which competition the best rifle shots in the principal armies of the world took part. He also captured the national rifle matches held in Sea Girt, New Jersey, in 1908, and the national competitive shooting matches held in Mt. Peary, Ohio in 1910.
Frederick served abroad in France from June 27th, 1917, for the 5th US Marine Corps, to the date when he was killed in August 21, 1917. Frederick was not engaged in any battle before he died. His death came in another way.
Frederick was killed when driving his motorbike, and there are notes in the newspapers which says that he was killed when he crushed his skull during the accident, 6 pm in the evening that specific day, at the age of 39. His parents still lived in Sweden during that time, but his nearest realtive in the US was his cousine, Edward Häggström.
2nd Lt Frederick Wahlström was buried in France after his death, with full military honors. He is now buried in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery.
There are several small texts about Frederick in the American newspapers, and below you can read some of them. They are both in Swedish and in English.
I will continue to try to find more information about Frederick Wahlström, like in which perish he was born and who his parents were. I will not add Frederick to my project as he doesnt fullfill the criterias for my research, but it is a really intersting story, which brings just another brick into our Swedish history regarding the Swedish born soldiers during the time of WW1.
Update June 11, 2021.
I am now trying to sort out some facts that I have. I assume now that Fredericks name was not Fredrik in Swedish. I work now with a specific thought that the Date of Birth is correct, which is, according to some sources, May 5th 1878.
One source claim that he is born in 1878, and that he is also is 15 years old when he arrives USA in 1897, which is not correct. He should be 19, as you also can see in some documents below.
One document, the application for naturlization, states that he arrives in April 27 1897 with the ship Paroma.
I think they read it wrong, and I assume they mean the S.S Pavonia. It is hard to read from the document though.
I think it is like this:
Frederick Wahlstrom is actually called August Gottfrid Wahlström in Sweden. August Gottfrid is born the same date, May 5th, 1878, near Mariestad, in the Perish of Horn. In the Book it says that August Gottfrid leaves for N. America in February 1897, where he probably leaves Liverpool anytime in March 1897. Below you can see info from some sources that makes it more likely that Frederick is actually August Gottfrid. But this is just assuptions still.
This is just an example of the method I use when I am trying to find and confirm the individuals to be born in Sweden. below you can also find some maps from the locations that are mentioned in the church book.
As you already know I am working with my project about the Swedish born soldiers who fought and fell at the Western Front. In the menu you can find a list over the soldiers that I so far have found within in my criterias for the project. Soldiers list.
You can also find some individuals developed with some more information, which is work that is updated now and then, with more portraits.
Although I keep the main list updated with name, cemetery, monument, Date of Birth and Date of Death.
Behind all the names, there is more fact, not shown in the list, only in my database documents. Right now I have collected around 3000 pictures, snippets of documents. I have also started to put in more geographical fact in the database, that I will use later on.
The main goal is to write a guide book, that connects the individual to the terrain, and also give a small story about every individual. It is probable that I will divide the database into more books, where I concentrate on a certain amount of individuals, and maybe divide them into both armies, or specific terrain and battles. The future will tell.
Below some snippets of the pictures I have, and also the database.
During my research I now and then searching for names of Swedishg soldiers and other facts in the digital versions of old newspapers on internet.
I have found some places myself, but now and then I get some tips from visitors on my page, that sends me other links to the old newspapers, which I am very grateful for.
The other day I found some interesting facts that I didnt know anything about, it was an article from the American newspaper with Swedish text, the “Svenska Amerikanen”.
It told me about a visit that the former leader of the Social Democrats in 1918, Hjalmar Branting, who later on became the Swedish version of Prime Minister, “Stadminister”, when he was visiting the Swedish soldiers who fought in The American Expediotionary Forces at the Western Front in France, in 1918.
Really interesting article, and it leaves me wondering how he went down to France, which way he took, and how it felt for the soldiers to have a visit from their former country representative.
I will try to translate the text in the article into English. You find it below.
AT “THE OURS” ON THE WEST FRONT
Hjalmar Branting visits the Swedes in the American contingent. “Good boys.”
AMERICANS SHOWS TRUST Hjalmar Branting has recently been to France and took the opportunity to visit the American troops. He stayed for three days in the American section of the Western Front. On his return to Stockholm, he told the Chicago Tribune’s correspondent James O’Donnell Bennett his impressions of the Americans.
He thus explains that the American soldiers gave him a depth. sense of esteem and confidence, the discipline is strict, stricter than in the French army. But at the same time, no one can fail to notice that a democratic spirit is asserting itself.
Branting felt particularly happy to find so many Swedish-Americans among the American soldiers. “Within a section, he found 15,000 Swedish Americans and a division consisted for the most part of Swedish-born or of Swedish descent,” the telegram states. It is probable that either Branting or the correspondent was wrong in this, for such a large number could not possibly be. “Next year, 200,000 Swedish Americans are expected to participate.” continues the telegram “the largest Swedish army ever assembled.” exclaims the correspondent.
Many of the Swedish-American soldiers have excelled in the battles on the western front, Branting said. He found several in the hospital, where they found the most caring host of American Red Cross paramedics. France has the highest admiration for this department. The most difficult Sufferers are those who have been exposed to toxic gases. One type of gas, mustard gas, attacks the skin, while another blinds the victims for a couple of three weeks.
One day Branting undertook a car ride of over 150 english miles and all the way, nothing but American soldiers and their barracks were seen. In some villages, where the Americans are housed, it was gratifying to see the American soldiers busy playing with the French children. For their kindness to children and women and consistent courtesy, Americans have made themselves known everywhere.
Branting praised the Swedish-Americans as good citizens and splendid soldiers, attached to their new homeland with a fidelity and affection that could serve as a role model.
During his visit to the Western Front, Branting paid a visit to General Pershing, of which he spoke very favorably.
Just got a message from the Swedish online magazine “Svensk Historia”, Swedish History, that they have put my web page in their link directory! I really appreciate this action, and send my warmest thanks to those who are responsible.
The page are in Swedish though but you can reach the online magazine through this link.
One evening I was working with my research, and was looking for some names with a kind of Scandinavian connection, and just went back to cards that I had overlooked before. I then discovered a casualty card with the name John Norman, 1st Lt in the 165th Infantry, 42nd Division, called “the Rainbow Division”, American Expeditionary Force. (AEF)
The unit spent March 1918 under French command to gain experience about Trench warfare.
According to the card John was killed in action March 7th, 1918, as I though was quite early in the period for the AEF in France. I decide to look it up and found information about a story I havent heard about before. John was killed at an age of 47.
According to some sources John is born in Säffle in Sweden, which is in Värmlands län, in the western part of Sweden, just west of the big lake Värnern. It is told that he is born March 25th, 1870, and I am now trying to find more information that can confirm this, which for the moment is a bit hard. In this case I am looking through church book from that region, but I think Säffle can come from the fact that his brothers adress is Säffle on the casualty card, and that type of information has the tendence to “walk around” and become a fact that may not be connected to the person itself. I am also looking into other dates of birth.
The story about when he lost his life at the Western Front is very sad to read, and as I understand now, it is quite many stories written about this situation. Below you cand find some word from one of the stories. It was the first week at the battlefield for the personnel in the New York National Guard 69th Infantry, called “Fighting sixty-Ninth”, a unit with Irish heritage, the name was given to the unit in the American Civil War, by Robert E Lee.
“At about 3:20 p.m. the enemy launched a barrage of shells in the 2nd Battalion’s position for about an hour,” wrote Richard Demeter in his 2002 history of “The Fighting 69th.” With the majority of troops below ground in hardened dugouts for protection, tragedy struck when a German shell landed on and collapsed the dugout where 1st Lt. John Norman, a regular Army officer and his two dozen Soldiers of 1st Platoon were stationed.
The dugout was some 40 feet below ground, with timbers to protect the Soldiers, and numerous turns down a stairwell to the entrance.
“Tons of earth and stone cascaded,” recalled Pvt. Alf Helmer, a native of Norway and one of the few survivors of the barrage, explained in the 2008 Stephen Harris book “Duffy’s War.”
“I remember only the crash,” Helmer recalled. “Thoughts ceased. I only know that I found myself in the doorway of the forward entrance, hands extended over my head.”
Maj. William Donovan, commander of the regiment’s 1st Battalion, was visiting the 2nd Battalion command post after the relief in place when the barrage struck. Donovan volunteered to make an assessment and assist in the rescue efforts of the imperiled 1st Platoon.
Initial efforts were able to recover seven Soldiers, two alive and five dead. Donovan and a rescue team could still hear other survivors, including Lt. Norman, from the crater of earth and timber.
Not all of the New York Soldiers perished in the initial blast that collapsed the dugout, Helmer would later recall in the Harris book’s account. Half the platoon had survived, but with little space for air and tons of earth and debris, Helmer expected everyone to die as he frantically used his own helmet to scoop away dirt and create space to breath.
“Choking dust and gas stench filled the suffocating darkness,” Helmer’s son recalled for an interview for the Harris book. “I gave myself to prayer and making my peace with God, I was no longer afraid.”
Under intense German artillery fire, including a gas attack, the frantic efforts to dig into the crater and save their fellow Soldiers continued, assisted by the regiment’s engineers of the Pioneer Platoon. Sgt. Abram Blaustein, one of the estimated 60 – 80 Jewish Soldiers serving in the Irish regiment, helped to lead the rescue efforts.
“The Pioneers were called out to try to rescue these men,” recalled Al Ettinger in his account to his son in the 1992 book “A Doughboy with the Fighting 69th.”
“All night long we labored. Two lieutenants have general direction but it was Abe Blaustein who really took charge and led by example. The men worked in relays, but Blaustein always took the most dangerous position,” Ettinger said.
For his heroic actions, Sgt. Blaustein received the French Croix de Guerre and the moniker “Blaustein of the Irish.”
Donovan also received the Croix de Guerre for his actions in leading rescue efforts under fire.
The trauma of the loss and the determination to act even touched the survivors. Pvt. Helmer, once rescued, moved on to the medical aid station and the battalion command post to report on the tragedy. Then, according to Harris in “Duffy’s War,” he requested permission to return to the site to assist with rescue efforts.
“I knew that unless I saw the thing through,” Helmer said, “I would never again be able to look my comrades in the face.”
As rescue efforts the following morning became too dangerous under the German artillery barrage, and no further sounds came from the dugout, it was decided to halt work and leave the remaining 14 Soldiers and 1st Lt. Norman where they were buried. The regiment placed a marker and moved on.”
Text from army.mil.
The story has also been the base for a movie “The Fighting 69th”. A small clip on Youtube here:
I will now try to search further on in the archives, trying to find information that confirms that he is born in Sweden. The confirmation is an important part in my research.